FLOWERY BRANCH — Nobody shuts down Falcons two-time All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones.
You can slow him down.
And when you leave him in one-on-one coverage, Jones can excel like he did last week against Tampa Bay. Jones had 12 catches for 253 yards and two touchdowns, becoming the first NFL receiver to have three 250-yard or more games in league history.
But Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes had held up against Jones in man-to-man coverage. The two will tangle when the Falcons (7-4) host the Vikings (9-2) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
In the last two meetings with the Falcons, Rhodes has come the closest to shutting Jones down.
While in coverage against Jones on four targets, Rhodes held him to two catches for 27 yards in the 41-28 loss on Sept. 28, 2014. Jones finished with eight catches for 82 yards overall.
In 2015, the Vikings elected to have Rhodes shadow Jones in the Georgia Dome for portions of the game. Jones was targeted seven times and caught five passes for 56 yards in the 20-10 loss on Nov. 29. He didn’t catch a pass until the second quarter. Adrian Peterson rushed 29 times for 158 yards and two touchdowns for the Vikings.
Jones had just two catches for 18 yards with Rhodes in coverage.
“Julio is Julio,” Rhodes told Minnesota reporters on Monday. “Big, fast, physical, can get the ball once it’s in the air. I don’t think he has a weakness. He’s focused, doesn’t talk much on the field, so it’s hard to get in his head. It’s Julio.”
Rhodes, who played at Florida State and was a first-round pick (25th overall) in 2013, since the meeting with Jones in 2015, he has regularly shadowed the opposition’s top receiver. He earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl last season and is having another stellar season.